Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Kyle Petty News Dominates "NASCAR Now"

It was Nicole Manske who had the duty of hosting the Tuesday edition of NASCAR Now and dealing with the news that Kyle Petty had stepped aside for the Texas Cup race.

After reporting the facts, Manske brought in David Newton who was diplomatic in his comments about the topic. Newton offered that driver Chad McCumbee may in fact be the best solution for Petty at the moment with the Texas race in the COT on the horizon. There were only facts, no hype, and that was not lost on NASCAR fans.

This season, ESPN has been tapping into its NASCAR resources in support of this program with good results. ESPN analyst Andy Petree was next on the show, and immediately indicated that he felt Petty's announcement signaled a "transition period" at Petty Enterprises.

Petree pointed out that Kyle was now out of the Top 35 in points and the key issue on the table was making the Texas race on time. They needed someone who could qualify the car, and perhaps at this stage of his career Kyle understood he was not the best choice available. Petree pointed to the fact that McCumbee qualified second at Texas in the last Craftsman Truck Series race and then almost won it. In Petree's mind that was the deciding factor in making this decision.

The best part about Andy Petree's appearances on NASCAR Now is that he always has an interesting thought in parting. Tuesday, Petree said very plainly that fans could expect to see McCumbee "a lot" in the Petty car throughout this season. Fans may remember that Kyle takes six races off in the summer to work as a broadcaster on TNT, and Petree seemed to be hinting that there could be a bigger transition about to occur in the Petty camp.

Chad Knaus was a panelist alongside Michael Waltrip Monday evening for the full hour of This Week In NASCAR on SPEED. Host Steve Byrnes got lots of opinions from Knaus on a wide variety of issues, including the team and company situation for Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports.

It was a bit of a surprise to see Knaus as the featured interview on the Tuesday evening edition of NASCAR Now. Knaus talked about the upsurge in both his group and the other Hendrick teams. Manske asked Knaus all the right questions, and his answers echoed the content seen on Monday's show on SPEED.

Andy Petree came along once again to "tag" this interview and state his opinion that Chad Knaus was the best crew chief in the Cup Series. Petree spoke to the reality of a big team having a tough time early in the season. He reminded viewers that it was only "the details" that Johnson's team was struggling with, as the car was running well.

Another great production decision resulted in Martinsville NCTS winner Dennis Setzer being interviewed on NASCAR Now. Manske did a good job of putting the emotion of this win in perspective, and bringing the memory of the late Bobby Hamilton into the conversation. Setzer is exactly the type of driver that typifies the Truck Series, and exposure like this on national TV is a great idea.

Since Dale Earnhardt Jr. was running a retro paint scheme at Texas, Tim Brewer came along to explain the painting and decaling process of a Cup car. The new vinyl wrapping available to teams was interesting to see firsthand, and the report was interesting. If his features could have just a little bit more time, they might be able to pay-off his technical perspective on racing issues a little better.

Manske rolled the show off-the-air with a nice music video piece that incorporated a lot of good footage and sound from the weekend. Both races were recapped, and this season ESPN is using audio from Fox and MRN freely to add the element that was missing from last year.

Hearing Dave Moody, Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip on ESPN2 shows just how far things have come for the NASCAR Now production team.

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Bestwick's "Lost Episode" Is Worth The Wait

The Martinsville review version of NASCAR Now had to settle for 1AM and 8AM Tuesday Eastern Time airings after losing the original 6PM Monday timeslot to live Major League Baseball.

For viewers who taped the show, or caught it as it aired, this program again delivered from top-to-bottom. Host Allen Bestwick welcomed Mike Wallace, Johnny Benson and reporter Mike Massaro as his "roundtable" panel.

The show immediately focused on Denny Hamlin, and recapped his day on the track. Bestwick led a discussion that broadened into recap of the entire race, and then reviewed the results.

The best way to cap a race review is talk to the winner, and the program welcomed Denny Hamlin by satellite from his home in North Carolina. Hamlin settled into a friendly and honest conversation with someone that he knew personally, and that is what has been making the difference this season. Bestwick is known to the NASCAR personalities and it shows in his conversations on-the-air.

After a sampling of soundbites from various Cup drivers, the panel did what they do best. That is offer their opinions and comments on the stories of the weekend. From Hendrick Motorsports to the single lane Martinsville track, it continues to be refreshing to hear NASCAR veterans talk racing.

A good example of the unexpected was the discussion of rookie Michael McDowell. After Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton "tag-teamed" McDowell in comments after the race, Bestwick led a discussion of the issues involved. Benson, Wallace and even Massaro offered specific opinions on this issue that were nicely diverse.

The understated Benson once again showed fans his experience when he spoke about the issues of bumping-and-banging at Martinsville. Without ever mentioning his own experience in the Craftsman Truck Series race, Benson spoke to the issue and kept his comments focused on the Cup Series. For veteran fans, this was a sutle reminder of what is missing on the current This Week In NASCAR offering on SPEED.

This Monday program continues to offer great music-video style edited features that present footage and behind-the-scenes audio that was not heard on the live telecast. Both the ESPN in-house staff and the NASCAR Media Group contribute content to this program and the results are outstanding.

Most viewers were waiting for Bestwick to lead the panel into the discussion of the Truck race at Martinsville. After the highlights, the focus was on Benson and his incident with Kyle Busch. The reality of racing and the issues associated with a driver's actions on the track were quickly put into perspective by Benson.

In his normally well-spoken manner, Benson explained that the incident was detrimental to both drivers and was not going to help Busch to win the race as the battle was for second place on the last lap. Benson also cleared up what TV viewers did not see, which was the fight on pit road after the event.

While the video rolled, Benson explained that an obscene gesture from Busch to Benson's pit crew set the incident in motion after the race. As the full-time Truck racer Benson added that Busch's actions cost him twenty-thousand dollars in prize money and several spots in the points, the reality of "Truck-whackers" like Busch was brought into focus.

In closing, the show paid a nice tribute to MRO's Max Helton who recently passed away, and wrapped-up the program by teasing Massaro about his "rain curse." This Monday NASCAR Now show has worked hard to cover all the bases of both a review and preview program, and the rotation of panelists has been one of the most interesting aspects so far this season.

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